THOUSANDS of Zimbabweans living legally in South Africa but whose permits are nearing expiration, must not panic. Not only because the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has extended the
validity of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) by a further six months.
In fact, there are legal alternatives for Zimbabwean nationals and their employers, according to a leading immigration consultancy. Fragomen, the consultancy, held a ZEP Business Breakfast, where expert
panellists shared insights on how best to plan for the expiry date, initially June 30 but since extended to December 31, and how companies should plan to ensure they are complying with South Africa’s complex
“We have received many questions regarding immigration and visa processes over the past few years, but this has increased manyfold as the deadline for ZEP permits looms closer. There are several options for
permit holders who want to remain in South Africa,” said Johannes Tiba, panellist and Senior Manager: Government Strategies and Corporate Compliance at Fragomen’s Johannesburg office.
South Africa has several visa application options, mainly Business, General Work, Critical Skills, Study, Section 11(6), and Relative.
Once the application process has begun, until it is finalised, an applicant can stay in the country while awaiting approval/rejection. Thus even if Home Affairs had not announced the extension on
Thursday, applicants would still be permitted into the country pending the determination of their application.
The worry among Zimbabweans is that the process of applying for alternatives is stringent.
Fragomen noted that what many ZEP holders didn’t realise was that some of these requirements could be waived – if they apply directly to the Minister of Home Affairs through a legal waiver application.
For example, a domestic worker applying for a general work visa may not be able to meet all the requirements – specifically the idea that her skills are not locally available.
However, through a waiver application, they can set out the number of years they have worked with their employer, their closeness to family (South African relatives), the impact on their own family, and the
difficulty in securing local workers in the same position.
If the application is successful, even though they may not meet all the requirements, they will still be eligible to apply for a General Work visa and be able to stay in the country legally until it is resolved.
They cannot be deported.
Tiba noted that while it is highly unlikely that all visa applications will be processed by the end of June, as long as the process has begun, applicants are able to legally remain in South Africa pending a decision.
“With more than 100 000 people applying, there is no way to fast-track the process,” he said.
While June 30 was approaching, human rights organisations, the Helen Suzman Foundation, and some other organisations had pushed back against this deadline.
On Thursday, Home Affairs extended the validity of the exemption permits, allaying fears among Zimbabweans they would not be able to meet the deadline.
“The Minister took into consideration the said factors, including (to a certain extent) submissions received from the affected Zimbabwean nationals, relevant officials of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA)
and other interested parties and decided to issue another Immigration Directive, extending the validity of Zimbabwean exemption permits for a further period of 6 months, ending on 31 December 2023,” Home Affairs stated.
Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is the Home Affairs minister.
The department said he has approved thousands of waiver applications of the affected Zimbabwean nationals, which has resulted in significant increase in the number of visa and waiver applications.
It said unlike before, since May/beginning of June 2023, VFS Global is now receiving between 1 000 and 1 500 visa and waiver applications of Zimbabwean nationals daily.
“For these reasons, the Director-General has deployed more officials to assist in the processing of the applications,” the department stated.
The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said while the extension of the permits was necessary in the immediate, it was not a long term viable solution as it would add more workload to an already
EFF insisted it had over the past decade advocated for a Pan-Africanist approach that includes visa and permit the free movement of Africans between African states.
“Besides this being a fundamental move towards a United Africa, it immediately resolves the Administration and costs associated with processing permits and visas by DHA,” the party stated.
Over 178 000 Zimbabweans have been living, working and studying in South Africa using the ZEP.
– CAJ News